How to engage patients across generations

As managers, you've probably heard before that you should tweak your leadership style to best reach employees from different generations. As the theory goes, you'll get more out of your Baby Boomer or Gen X staffers, for example, if you first understand what makes them tick.

This same reasoning can help you better engage and satisfy your patients, said Cam Marston, training program developer and book author, at the "A Generational Look at Customer Service and Patient Care" Sunday presentation at the Medical Group Management Association conference in Las Vegas.

According to Marston, practices should reevaluate how they communicate with patients based on the following general characteristics of the four major generations that coexist:

  • Matures and baby boomers (born before 1964). This group appreciates the history of your practice--how long you've been in the community, your physicians' reputations, and your tenure in the marketplace, Marston said. From a marketing standpoint, these patients are interested not only in your story, he said, but learning about it helps instill confidence in them about you.

    As for service, it's critical to articulate, especially to the extraordinarily busy baby boom generation, how you will save them time and make their lives easier. One caveat, however, is to be careful to gauge individuals' comfort level with various technologies (e.g., email) before pushing too much of it on them as a solution, Marston said. Finally, remember that this is a group that favors personal, face-to-face communication whenever possible.
  • Generation X (born from 1965 to 1979). If you're trying to impress Gen Xers with the history of your practice or your physicians' honors or accolades, however, you're likely wasting your time. Rather, those in their mid-30s and just beyond want to focus on the future, Marston said. In particular, they want you to acknowledge their individuality and present what you will do going forward. Gen Xers are also the most cynical generation, he added. To them, a physician's certificates on the wall don't deem him or her an expert; they need proof in action. Out of all the generations, Gen Xers spend the most time conducting online research before making any major decision as to where they'll place their time or money.

    But although Gen Xers are among your toughest customers, they're also your most loyal once you've won them over. If they are satisfied, they will help spread invaluable positive word of mouth about your practice, Marston said. It's also important to keep in mind that Gen Xers often help their baby boom and mature parents make financial decisions so their influence spans beyond their direct business with you. As for communication, this generation and younger embraces electronic communication, often preferring text messaging over email.
  • Millennials (born from 1980 to 2000). With millennials, it's important to note that they're likely entering major life stages, such as moving out of their parents' home and having children of their own, at later ages than previous generations. In addition, these individuals tend to have closer relationships with their parents, considering them more like friends than previous generations. Like Gen Xers, millennials have a large influence over where their parents might place their dollars. To connect with millennials, "anything you do must have an immediate application for them," Marston said. In other words, talk about how you're going to work with them to come up with shared decisions about their unique circumstances.

For more information:
- check ou the MGMA conference website

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